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Legal Experience for Languages Students

Legal Experience for Languages Students

If you are a current student of languages, but hoping to take the GDL after graduation, you may have considered gaining legal experience somewhere other than Britain. Trying to gain legal experience whilst also trying to balance a degree in languages is never easy, but your language skills open up a wide range of possibilities for legal experience, an opportunity that you should most definitely take advantage of.

As a languages student, your time abroad is the perfect opportunity to gain some legal experience. During this time, the pressure of your home degree is somewhat alleviated and you are surrounded by new possibilities and adventures. Applying for an internship at a law firm is a great way to meet new people, improve your language skills, and ultimately challenge yourself in a place that may be slightly out of your English-speaking comfort zone.

I am currently in my fourth year of a five-year course reading Oriental Studies (Japanese and Korean). Before entering university I intended on applying to read Jurisprudence, and accordingly attended a number of Law School open days with this aim. However, I began to feel that perhaps learning languages before embarking on my legal career would give me an edge and open up a range of opportunities for working as a solicitor abroad, offering more than just legal skills to a future employer. Therefore, I decided to read Oriental Studies, with the intention of going on to take the GDL after graduation.

As a languages student, your time abroad is the perfect opportunity to gain some legal experience.

I have recently completed a five-week internship at Oh-Ebashi LPC and Partners in Osaka, Japan. It is ranked as one of the top ten law firms in Japan and has offices in Osaka, Tokyo, and Shanghai. It also regularly works alongside top British and American law firms. How to secure an internship at a foreign firm may at first seem somewhat of a mystery, especially as applying for vacation schemes in Britain often follows a set process of online application forms, tests, and interviews. However, all it takes is a little courage, independence, and enthusiasm.

As I am currently studying at a Japanese university, this meant that from February to April there would be a long university holiday, a time for which gaining some legal experience would be perfect. Therefore, from late December I started working out the best way to go about finding an internship with a law firm in Japan. I began with searching for law firms that deal with international clients, as well as Japanese clients, as I felt that these firms would have a higher demand for native English speakers. After narrowing down a list of about ten, I then focused on updating my CV and writing a cover letter outlining my situation and hopes for the future, explaining that I would really like to gain some further legal experience during my time in Japan. I then focused on translating both my CV and cover letter into Japanese, as I felt that although there were certain to be many employees in the firm more than capable of understanding my English, it would show some effort on my part in attempting to write in Japanese rather than just relying on the easier option of English. Applying for internships independently, I had little option other than to just rely on my own Japanese and a quick read over of the two documents by a Japanese friend. But I came to the conclusion that although my Japanese may not have been perfect, at least it was genuine. My Japanese friend reassured me it was more than comprehensible and that the passion behind it was clear. I sent both the English and Japanese copies to the list of firms that I had previously compiled, and began the wait.

After about two weeks, I received an email from one company, unfortunately informing me that they were not able to take me as an intern. I was not particularly surprised or discouraged by this, especially as internships are far rarer in Japan than in England, and I was prepared for companies being somewhat surprised by my contact. However, later that week I received an email from Oh-Ebashi LPC and Partners, informing me that they would be willing to take me as an intern, even being kind enough to pay for my travel with some additional remuneration. Receiving this reply from such a prominent firm I was overjoyed, and could not wait to start my time there.

Upon arrival at the firm, I received an incredibly warm welcome and everything was explained in detail to me, leaving me feeling completely at ease. I was introduced to every office member and was invited to participate in a range of lunchtime activities each day. Although everyone was proficient in English, they were very patient with my Japanese, and did their best to help me improve, explaining tasks in Japanese and correcting my Japanese where necessary.

Despite being a non-law student, if you have language skills you really can offer a lot to a legal firm, especially if you are willing to place confidence in your linguistic ability and to really put your skills to the test. Originally I expected my work to mainly be limited to proofreading English documents, or to contacting English-speaking clients, but in fact my contribution extended far beyond this. In addition to taking minutes of meetings in both English and Japanese, legal research and attending meetings of the Osaka Bar Association, by my second week I was translating Articles of Association, Contracts, and various other important documents. Although I was slightly unfamiliar with legal documents prior to the internship, proofreading was a great way to get used to the specialist terms and format of these, before embarking on my own translations.

Being a linguist, I was not limited to the languages I am currently studying. I was entrusted with the translation of a German contract, despite not having studied any German since A-level. However, the skills of a linguist stretch far beyond that of the languages one is currently focused on, and they can be transferred to any number of languages. Thus as the only speaker of German in the office, I took confidence in my linguistic ability and was successfully able to complete the translation.

Receiving this reply from such a prominent firm I was overjoyed, and could not wait to start…

During my time at Oh-Ebashi I was also able to attend a mock arbitration study group, a study group of current legal affairs, a weekly lawyers’ lunch, a Japanese and English language communication group, a number of social events, and was even invited to attend the Association of University Technology Managers Asia conference 2013 in Kyoto. If I hadn’t challenged myself and decided to try organising an internship in Japan independently, I would never have been able to have gained such invaluable experience, meet so many interesting and prominent people, or to have spent such a productive and enjoyable five-weeks during my university holiday.

Undertaking an internship in a foreign country is a great way to expand your legal knowledge, to make new contacts, and to improve your language ability and knowledge and understanding of that country. It really is an invaluable experience, and one that is more than within your grasp if you have just a little bit of independence and drive.

皆さん、頑張って! (Everyone, good luck!)

Bethan Parker-Luscombe is a student at Hertford College, Oxford, expected to graduate in 2014. She hopes to work either as a solicitor in Asia in the future, or as part of an international law firm with close links to Asia.

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